In The Blackcoat’s Daughter, Kiernan Shipka and Emma Roberts weave tandem tales of young women — one squaring off against mysterious evil when left alone (save for one other student) at her boarding school, and one seemingly on the run from something that has her spooked.
As slow burn horror goes, The Blackcoat’s Daughter moves about as slowly as possible. The early stages of the film are quite sparse in terms of dialogue, and give us little indication of what’s to come, but the foreshadowing and atmospheric elements are sufficient to create an air of foreboding. The viewer is never under any impression that something wicked this way comes, but until it does, we split our time between two narratives.
In the first, Kat (Shipka) a freshman, is left behind by her parents during a school break and has only a bristly older student, Rose (Lucy Boynton) for company. Lucy conspired to get left behind, but as time presses on, each girl learns that not all is as it seems with the other. Then there’s Joan (Emma Roberts). Joan is on the road in the brutal cold. She’s looking particularly desperate when a middle-aged man convinces her to come along with he and his wife — they’ll take her a ways down the road, get her some food, keep her warm. It has all the trappings of a precarious situation, and director Oz Perkins gives us precious little on Joan for quite a stretch of the picture, so the suspense comes as much from wondering when the fresh hell will unfold as much as how.
Though it’s frustrating at times, this ping-pong back-and-fourth, need-to-know-basis style of storytelling does make for quite a wild finale. Shipka and Roberts keep us tuned in even when it seems that absolutely nothing is happening, and having finished the journey, I know that the ends pretty well justify the means, but it is difficult not to wonder how much more punch the picture might have held were these leads given more to contend with in the early stages of the picture.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter is not an exceptional entry in the horror genre, but it is a ponderous one.